Victim's rights groups, defense attorneys split on discovery material reforms

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The brutal death of a man in New Cassel who was set to testify against MS-13 is raising concerns about the state's new bail reform law.

Victim's rights advocates say they're worried about another controversial part of the state's criminal justice reforms that went into effect Jan. 1. This portion has to do with how the court system handles criminal cases.

"We definitely understand that there's more than a need for reform, but we want to make sure that there's a carve out for our victims so they feel safe -- so they feel secure and so they know they can report without any retaliation," says Keith Scott, with The Safe Center.

Previously, prosecutors were allowed to wait until the night before a trial to turn over key evidence. Now they're required to hand over all "discovery material" within 15 days of a defendant's arraignment.

MORE: Police: 'Pattern of intimidation' preceded New Cassel man's death at the hands of MS-13 members 

Defense attorneys are entitled to witness statements, grand jury testimony, the identity and contact info for anyone with information relevant to the case, notes from law enforcement and 911 recordings.

"This brings us into line with most other states in the union," says defense attorney Marc Gann. "It helps because it enables us as defense lawyers and defendants to assess the proof, the strength, the weaknesses in a criminal prosecution at a very early stage of the prosecution."

But the sticking point for victim's rights advocates is what kind of contact information for victims or witnesses will a defendant have access to, and what will they do with it?

According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, the new law still allows judges to take steps to protect victims, saying "New York's discovery law allows for protective orders, so that the identity of witnesses can be kept confidential. In fact, the new law gives courts more power to grant protective orders, including when defendants have a history of witness intimidation and to protect informants."

The new law also requires some reciprocal discovery where the defense is now required to turn over some evidence to the prosecution. Defense attorneys and victim's rights groups say they're expecting parts of the new law to be challenged in court.

 

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